Worried about your cholesterol? Think a higher number is a death threat? Confused about the differences between LDL and HDL, and why should you care anyway? Don’t even know what cholesterol is, and why your body needs it so desperately?
These are all common concerns. And they are ones we should all, as women, be supremely aware of. Why?
Heart disease is now the leading cause of death for women. Heart disease takes a whole 24 percent of American females every year.
It is, unsurprisingly, followed by the vague category of “obesity” which clocks in at 22 percent.
Heart disease — whether overweight or slim, young or old (remember David Letterman’s quadruple by-pass?) — can be a reality for any of us.
To that end, I was so excited to pick up a copy of Jimmy Moore’s newest book: Cholesterol Clarity: What the HDL is Wrong with my Numbers? and make sure I am up to speed on the heart disease world.
Jimmy Moore (listen to his compelling story on my first podcast here) is one of my favorite people in the health world, and I am not alone in this preference. His heart is bigger than the twelve-story library I am currently sitting in, and his passion for health is possibly larger (though this is a contentious toss-up, for sure.) This fact might bias me in this review, but I don’t think so. I was pleased as hell to find that Cholesterol Clarity is a legit book that is not just super smart but super digestible. It does exact what it says that it is going to: it explains cholesterol and the culture around it, from top to bottom.
Clarity opens with a disclaimer. “I am not a doctor!” says Jimmy. He acknowledges his limitation in this regard. His solution, however, is lightyears better than the one I personally use. In my own books I say “I have no medical training” but go ahead and pretend like my opinion is authoritative anyway. Jimmy does it the right way. He acknowledges his limitations, and proceeds to base his entire book off of a series of interviews he has conducted with prominent scientists across the globe.
29 of them, in fact.
And is co-authored with Dr. Eric Westman, MD.
There are a few other major premises on which the book is structured. They form the crux of Jimmy’s argument.
1, he says, high cholesterol is not a bad thing. At least inherently. High cholesterol can indicate a higher risk for heart problems for a small segment of the male population, but it is a highly complex story. Fortunately, Jimmy renders it completely digestible, and he demonstrates why high cholesterol should not be feared.
2, he says, an inflammatory diet is the true cause of heart disease. Cholesterol has simply been caught in the statistical cross-fire.
Now — Jimmy also makes the argument that carbohydrates play a significant role in causing the inflammatory and triglyceride problems that ultimately lead to heart disease. Personally, I am not sold on that score. That argument relies on carbohydrates as the primary drivers of blood sugar dysregulation and insuiln resistance, which in turn wreak havoc on triglyceride levels. I consider myself more of the Guyenet camp that emphasizes overeating of any and all macronutrients over specific macronutrients as problematic for inflammation.
But that is small change compared to the inflammatory argument as a whole. I had a perfectly happy and enriching time reading this book regardless of that difference in opinion. I still learned boatloads about the statistics surrounding heart disease, the health factors that drive heart disease, and the culture of heart disease in the medical community.
There are some other arguments that may surprise regular readers:
Statins are unhealthy.
Fat is good for your heart.
Higher cholesterol is associated with lowered risk of all cause mortality for women.
This last point is not totally unfamiliar to me — I came across the relevant studies back in 2011 — but the idea that high cholesterol may be good, and particularly for women — is something I want to highlight here. As I mentioned, heart disease is one of the greatest causes of death for women, and it’s a feminine issue I have only scarcely made the time to address on this blog.
To that end, know that higher cholesterol may be protective for you, but if you’ve got elevated numbers it is nonetheless quite important to dig into this info and figure out how you are going to continue to best optimize the health of your heart.
I was particularly interested in Chapter 14, which dealt with what elevates the body’s production of cholesterol. This was particularly enlightening for me since I had never deeply researched some of these things despite how important they are for women’s health.
For example, one cause of elevated cholesterol is hypothyroidism. It makes pretty obvious sense once you think about it, however. T3, the active form of thyroid hormone, pushes LDL into cells and out of the bloodstream. Without T3, LDL can’t get put away and litters the bloodstream.
Micronutrient deficiencies is another factor in elevated cholesterol. Iodine, selenium, zinc, and copper all seem to play roles. Iodine and selenium may be factors because of hypothyroidism. Zinc and copper are crucial for antioxidant activity.
Super important for me, as someone who often dismisses norms about hygiene (I promise I clean regularly enough to stay palatably good smelling), is the relevance of chronic bacterial infection, particularly in the teeth, which is the most common location of chronic infection. Failing to brush your teeth can be a serious threat to yor heart health. Cholesterol is used to stabilize tissue after an infection. Recovering from any infection is crucial for this. Yet if you have dirty teeth or gingevitis, you are constantly hosting an infection your body needs to clean up.
PCOS can increase cholesterol. Surprise!
So does stress. Double surprise.
All of which is to say that I do so much talking about hormones on this blog, it’s easy to forget the rest of the picture is out there. But it definitely is! Everyone’s health, including women’s health, is important in all organ systems, from the ovaries to the heart and all the way to the teeth.
Finally, I want to share the table of contents. That’s my own favorite way to get a feel for a book:
Let’s Meet Your Cholesterol Experts
1: What is Cholesterol and Why Do You Need It?
2: Forget Cholesterol: It’s the Inflammation
3: What Do Major Health Groups Say about Cholesterol?
4: Doctors Are Questioning the Anticholesterol Message
5: Statin Drugs: Magic Pill or Marketed Poison?
6: What Does Heart Healthy Really Mean?
7: Why Low Fat Ain’t All That
8: Carbs and Vegetable Oils: The Twin Villains
9: What’s This LDL Particle Thing?
10: Forgotten and Ignored: Triglycerides and HDL
11: The Experts Weigh In on Key Heart-Health Markers
12: Why Are So Many Doctors Clueless about Cholesterol?
13: What Do You Mean My Cholesterol Is Too Low?
14: Nine Reasons Why Cholesterol Levels Can Go Up
15: I’m Still Worried about My High Cholesterol!
16: Bit Aren’t the Choeslterol Guidelines Based on Solid Science?
17: The Low-Fat, Vegetarian Myth
18: How Your Doctor MisInterprets Your Cholesterol Test Results
19: What Your Basic Cholesterol Test Results Mean
20: Eight Advanced Health Markers You Should Consider
21: Test Your Ability to Read Cholesterol Test Results
Epilogue: Now that You’ve Been Enlightened, What Happens Next?